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Dyslexia In The Workplace

The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities. Dyslexia itself is not classed as a disability. It depends on the employee’s circumstances and if it satisfies the Equality’s Act definition of a disability it can qualify as a disability. Dyslexia is classed as a “specific learning difficulty”. It affects the skills that are involved in reading and the spelling of words.

Dyslexia is usually identified when a child starts school. Children with dyslexia often have trouble learning the names and sounds of letters. Their spelling is often unpredictable and inconsistent. Figures and letters are often put round the wrong way. For example writing a “6” instead of a “9” or a “b” instead of a “d”.

It’s estimated that up to one in every 10-20 people in the UK has some degree of dyslexia. If not picked up at an earlier age students can take these difficulties into the workplace without knowing. In one well known disability discrimination case the employee had carved a very successful career in the Metropolitan Police for over 25 years before his dyslexia was identified. The issue arose because the officer needed additional time to complete promotion board paperwork. This particular case, which pre-dated the Equality Act 2010, hinged on whether doing an exam paper was a “normal day to day activity”. The court decided that it was and the employer should have made an adjustment allowing the officer an additional 25% time period to complete the paper.

Symptoms of dyslexia vary considerably. As well as reading problems, sufferers can experience difficulties writing, have poor spelling, an inability to remember PIN or telephone numbers and poor organisational skills.

The Equality Act 2010 requires employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees where the employer knows or could reasonably be expected to know that the employee had a disability and is likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage compared to their non-disabled counterparts. A failure to do so constitutes discrimination in its own right and it’s very commonly the area in disability where employers come to grief. At the end of 2015 a woman with dyslexia won a disability discrimination case against her employer Starbucks after she was accused of falsifying workplace documentation. Ms Kumulchew was a supervisor. She was responsible for taking the temperature of fridges and water at specific times of the day. These results were entered into a duty roster.

The allegations were made after Ms Kumulchew input the data incorrectly. As a result of her actions Ms Kumulchew was given lesser duties and told to retrain. She had previously told Starbucks that she was dyslexic and therefore successfully complained to the employment tribunal that Starbucks had failed to make reasonable adjustments for her disability. The tribunal agreed...

In the case of Ms Kumulchew, Starbucks were aware that she had dyslexia and that it could affect her day to day activities. It had not made any adjustments to help her carry out her duties.

Here are some tips on helping dyslexic employees in the workplace.

  • If you’re giving a dyslexic employee instructions try to give it to them verbally. Presenting a task verbally is much easier for a dyslexic employee to cope with than giving them a set of written instructions.
  • Be prepared to go over verbal instructions a number of times. Many people with dyslexia have difficulty storing and processing information. They can’t remember information immediately.
  • If you are unable to give verbal instructions and you have to write it down, make sure you do it properly. If information is presented correctly it can make a huge difference to dyslexic people who find reading challenging.
  • Do not use italics or underline text.
  • Where possible use lower case letters rather than capitals. Using capital letters for emphasis can make text harder to read.
  • Choose a plain, evenly-spaced sans-serif font such as Arial, Helvetica or Calibri. Alternatives include Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic, and Trebuchet.
  • Font size should be 12-14. Some dyslexic readers may benefit from a larger font.
  • Use dark coloured text on a light (not white) background.
  • Keep lines left justified with a ragged right edge.
  • Use bullets or numbers rather than continuous prose.
  • Write in short simple sentences.
  • Be conscious of where sentences begin on the page. Starting a new sentence at the end of a line makes it harder to follow.

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